Saturday, January 20
I woke up. That was the biggest triumph of the day, really, considering the previous night’s bender. I couldn’t really sleep anyway because of the stress — I had to prepare for a huge party, and the Riviera hadn’t allowed me to check into the room (or even find out the room number) until noon today. I had no idea what the place would even look like. Plus, there was still that little issue of how I was going to finish the presentation I had to deliver to about 600 people tomorrow morning.
I climbed into the shower, and the minute the hot water hit me, so did inspiration. I knew how I would end my presentation, and I didn’t even have to shoot and edit a video beforehand. It fit my talk perfectly. All I had to do was a small rewrite of the end of the speech and I was good to go. I hopped out of the shower, threw on some clothes, and did a happy dance as I grabbed my stuff to go downstairs. The happy dance did not appear to amuse Sam, who looked only slightly alive.
I made it down to the conference in time to grab another delicious pastry for breakfast, but I didn’t have long to relax. A great line-up of speakers was set to go at 8:30am (a bit early since the previous day ran late), starting with Peter Sagal of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me fame. I LOVE that show (it’s on NPR as if you didn’t know), and I have to say that I kick ass at it, so I was excited to hear Peter talk. Just as he was beginning, I ran into Scott Dikkers, editor-in-chief of The Onion. Jeff Wagg introduced us, and he agreed to come talk on the podcast after his talk. Awesome!
As soon as Peter finished, I introduced myself and brought him over to be interviewed. He had a very interesting perspective on the effectiveness of communicating with one another by building stories, and how the skeptical community can use that idea to get our message out. He also offered some insight on how NPR decides what kind of news to broadcast. He promised that he was trying to bring the show to Boston, but our local NPR station wasn’t exactly helping. Damn you, WBUR! It’s time for a nasty letter.
So next we talked to Scott Dikkers, who is of course very funny, but also very introspective. He has a tremendous amount of awareness for what’s going on in the rest of the world, and a sincere desire to let the rest of us know just how good we have it. He’s communicating that — and communicating it very well — through satire. His uproarious presentation will be worth the cost of the TAM DVDs alone, and his interview with the Skeptics’ Guide is definitely worth the price. Which is free, in case you weren’t aware. I’ll let you guys know when it goes up.
Because of the interview with Scott, I missed most of my darling Phil Plait’s presentation. I did see the part where he was forced to pay his respects to PZ Myers, which was hilarious, so I assume the rest of the talk was similarly funny.
During the first part of lunch, I had to run upstairs to my room to retrieve something (probably calendars or something), during which time the guys interviewed Adam Savage from Mythbusters. I checked my phone and realized Steve had tried to call me, but it was on silent so I missed it. Whoops! I came back downstairs to grab some food and sit with the podcasters, and Adam was still hanging out so I got to talk with him for quite awhile anyway, albeit not on tape. Plus, Scientific American editor John Rennie sat down with us, too — definitely a fun lunch. Did I mention I developed a bit of a crush on John? I found him to be surprisingly funny, and not just a little bit cute, to boot. I’m trying to convince him to come up to Boston so we can hang out (platonically).
After lunch it was time for John to speak about his experiences during his tenure at SciAm. I think a large portion of the audience was pleasantly surprised that he turned out to be so entertaining and informative. I hope he’s invited back next year.
During the beginning of John’s talk, I ran into Christopher Hitchens. I first met him at TAM3, when following his talk I offered to have his love baby. No, I’m serious. I remember remarking to Sam (we’ve been TAM roommates for a long time now) at the time, “I don’t agree with most of what he just said, but damn do I like the way he says it.”
So I spoke with Chris, and he agreed to come on the podcast right after his talk, which was up next. As usual, his presentation was informative and vicious as he ripped into the media for their inability to deliver the public unbiased news. When he finished, he was mobbed by a crowd of people who either wanted him to sign something, wanted to agree with him about something, or wanted to argue with him about something. The funny thing is that he wanted to do all those things, too, so getting him to the podcast table in one piece was extraordinarily difficult.
Once we had headphones on him, though — wow. His was by far the dirtiest interview of the conference and I hope that after editing we still have enough material for the mass audience. I hesitate to even quote him here on the blog, where just about anything goes. I’ll just say that at one point he made a throwaway comment about a certain newscaster “sitting on Henry Kissinger’s face.” Holy shit. Oh, then he spent ten minutes telling us dirty limericks.
After Hitchens, I grabbed Jim Underdown, director of CSI-West and mega-cutie. Okay, “mega-cutie” isn’t technically his title, but it’s still true. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I am enamored with a good 90% of the people I meet at TAM. I first met Jim at TAM3 (or possibly 4) when he showed up at a party in my hotel room. We never got a lot of time to chat, so this interview was a great way to hear about some of the fun stuff he has done — and is doing now — to conquer pseudoscience over there in Hollywood.
Because of those interviews, I missed most of the Mythbusters on stage answering questions. I’ve seen them a bunch of times, plus I got to hang with Adam earlier, so I wasn’t too bummed. I heard they were great, and I believe it — Adam is just so pumped about the whole skeptical community that it’s a joy to just watch him work.
Next up came the South Park guys, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. They answered questions and talked about all the skeptics’ fave episodes, like John “Biggest Douche in the Universe” Edwards and the Scientology brouhaha. The guys managed to grab Matt for the podcast right after they came off stage, but I was off trying to check into the suite for the big party that night so I missed that. I also missed most of the panel discussion that followed, but I did catch a glimpse of Christopher Hitchens preparing to punch Scott Dikkers in the face. Passionate guys . . . I liked it, since panel discussions are boring when everyone agrees with one another.
I got the keys to the suite and ran upstairs to check it out. I hadn’t seen even a photo of the thing prior to this — all I knew was that it was the biggest space they had. I opened the door to see a living room with a balcony, a small bar and fridge, a bedroom with a king-sized bed, another bedroom with two double beds, two bathrooms with big spa tubs, and another half-bath. Holy shit, again. It was pretty damned nice.
I hopped in a car with my friends Ed and Val, and we ran to the grocery store for last minute supplies. I was starting to panic because the clock was ticking — I passed around word that the party was starting at 9pm, but people could start showing as early as 8. I had no idea how many people would show up, since I couldn’t even spread word of where it was until noon, and Jeff didn’t want to announce it on stage since it wasn’t an official JREF function. I understand that, since I didn’t want JREF to suffer from any consequences (fines or whatever) that may result from having such a party in the hotel. So I just told as many people as I could find, posted it on the bulletin boards in the lobby, and invited all the speakers. Then I crossed my fingers.
People began trickling in on time. Around 8:30, we had about 12 to 15 people. Someone said, “It’s kind of quiet, isn’t it? There were more people last year.” I pointed out that the party didn’t technically start until 9, and besides, lots of people were going to see Jamy Ian Swiss’ magic show that night from 9pm until 11pm, so it might not pick up until then.
By 9:30pm I think we had a good 70 people. I mean, the place was hopping. Hauteden from the JREF forum brought his laptop, and connected it to speakers provided by another forumite, Zygar, so the tunes were spinning all night. Sam hopped behind the bar and served up drinks pretty much the entire time. The balcony was crowded with so many smokers and people just itching to take in a great view of Vegas that numerous party-goers were placing bets on how long before the thing collapsed.
At some point, the official JREF videographer showed up to document the insanity. He made the mistake of giving his equipment to Richard Wiseman, who conducted some “interviews” before handing it off to me. I circled the party for awhile with the camera and got what I think was good footage, but I can’t be sure because I was rather buzzed from the outrageous amount of liquor flowing from the bar and all the excitement. In any event, I (and dozens of others) would love to get my hands on that tape.
There was no definite headcount, but most estimates put the number of party attendees between 125 and 150, which made the party delightfully packed. Among the crowd was Christopher Hitchens (telling 15-minute long jokes with no punchline), Phil Plait (judging for the chocolate challenge), Richard Wiseman (filming), Nick Gillespie and others from Reason Magazine, Banacheck (I didn’t see him but I’m told he showed at some point), and multiple Skepchick and Skepdude calendar models, requiring someone to run out in the wee hours of the morning to purchase Sharpies for calendar-signing.
Sunday, January 21
Around 2am, I started to crash. I pulled Sam aside and told him I was thinking of kicking everyone out of one of the bedrooms so I could get a few hours of sleep before my talk later that morning, but he told me to just go back to his room and sleep where it’s a bit quieter. I was worried about leaving 100 people in my very expensive suite, but Sam assured me he had it under control.
I got back to Sam’s room after a 20-minute wander around the hotel. I tell you, the place was a labrynth. I changed into a t-shirt and fell into bed, completely wiped out.
Around 4am, I woke up to Sam talking to me. I’m not sure how long I had appeared to be awake prior to that, but as I swam into consciousness he was saying, ” . . . told we would have to leave the hotel.”
” . . . what?”
“Don’t panic, it’s under control. I just thought you’d want to know.”
” . . . what?”
“Security came and broke up the party. It’s okay, though, I took care of it. Go back to sleep.”
” . . . okay. Cool.”
When in doubt, I trust Sam. I went back to sleep.
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